Embark Gallery Presents "Backbend"

Ten local artists explore the role of optimism in contemporary discourse

Yourong Zhao.  Happiness To Go , 2018. Souvenir pins on wire.

Yourong Zhao. Happiness To Go, 2018. Souvenir pins on wire.

A backbend: a straining stretch or a playful symbol of childlike freedom. Falling down, but reaching up towards the ground to achieve the pose - in this show, the backbend becomes a metaphor for optimism. The artists in “Backbend” explore the discomfort in hoping, the posturing of happiness, and the futility of optimism in the face of inevitable demise. At the same time, they endeavor to rewrite histories, wish for possible futures, and make an argument for finding joy in the present moment, absurd as it may be. 

Altered photographs by Hannah Waiters look to the past, reimagining memories and rewriting narratives by hand painting on recorded remnants. Woven textiles by Margot Becker consider the myths we use to understand our environment, and consider the importance of legacy - the kinds of stories we leave behind. Similarly concerned with future generations, Lizzy Blasingame’s sculptural installation is a call to action, suggesting education is where best to put our hope, and that optimism should be taught in order to achieve positive change.

Collin Pollard.  Just Do It,  2018. Archival pigment print.

Collin Pollard. Just Do It, 2018. Archival pigment print.


Mengjiao Zhang’s photography considers our fraught relationship with nature, and captures surreal moments in the constructed space of the zoo, the zoo being both a place of optimistic conservation efforts and entertainment at the animals’ expense. Connie Zheng’s video work “The lonely age” confronts uncomfortable truths about ecological disaster and the inefficacy of our response, though there is a hopefulness in the fantasy the film presents, in the imagined community and collaboration required to save the planet. 

Alexandra Lee’s wishing sculptures center on the hope of finding love and the faith inherent in ritual, or at least the comfort found in taking action towards fulfilling our desires, symbolic as making a wish may be. Hailing from the high deserts of New Mexico, Santino Gonzales’ performative video explores the intersections of ufology, technology and folklore. The yearning to connect with extraterrestrial life is born out of anxiety and isolation, but the quest is ultimately optimistic, illuminating the human desire for connection.

The performativity of well-being in the digital age looms large in the body of work Yourong Zhao calls “Happiness, Inc.”, which points out the artifice in broadcasting our happiness online to the ultimate profit of capitalist social media companies. Sean Peeler similarly riffs on technology and the joy of consumerism, using the often romanticized cyanotype printing process to recreate stock photos of smiling actors shopping online, or laughing at a computer screen. Humor is also present in the photographs by Collin Pollard, whose playful images point out the absurdity of our reliance on material products for a sense of satisfaction, as well as the shallow nature of aesthetically pleasing, ‘feel-good’ advertising.  

This exhibition was juried by Angelica Jardini, Curatorial Director of Embark Arts.

Participating Artists: Margot Becker (CCA), Lizzy Blasingame (SFSU), Santino Gonzales (CCA), Alexandra Lee (CCA), Sean Peeler (SJSU), Collin Pollard (SFAI), Hannah Waiters (CCA), Mengjiao Zhang (SFAI), Yourong Zhao (SFAI), Connie Zheng (UC Berkeley)

Embark Gallery offers exhibition opportunities to current and recently graduated Masters of Fine Arts students in the San Francisco Bay Area. We provide a space for an engaged community of artists, curators and scholars, and we aim to expand the audience for up and coming contemporary art. The juried exhibitions are held at our gallery in San Francisco at the historic Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture.

Press Previews by appointment.

Opening Reception:  Friday, October 25, 2018, 6-9PM 

Hours: 12–5pm every Thursday-Saturday from October 26 - December 7, 2018. 

Media Contact: 

Angelica Jardini | Curatorial Director